Autograph appeasement was the tactic at public training the day after an embarrassing . For 20 minutes, Flick was joined by players and Germany director Rudi Völler in making the rounds with those fans who hadn’t quite given up the ghost yet. Völler called the performance a “humiliation” — adding that he was “in a state of shock.”
The previous night, Flick teetered on throwing the team under the bus when he said “we need more dribblers”, citing the dearth of players like Leroy Sané and Jamal Musiala when asked what Germany were missing.
The next day, the Germany coach’s staff cut relaxed and cheerful figures, perhaps already accepting their impending doom, while the starting eleven were spared from training under the watchful eye of the media. A few hundred meters over, the assembled Japanese press were even allowed onto the pitch to monitor their national team.
‘A lot of insecurity, not much confidence’
The players, on the other hand, took responsibility.
Joshua Kimmich admitted: “you notice there is a lot of insecurity, not much confidence. We talk about the quality of this team a lot but when you don’t show it on the pitch so often over such a long period, you have to question whether we have that quality. Because if we had it, we wouldn’t have this run of results. Us players have to face up to it ourselves.”
When asked what he made of the decision to field him at his old position of right-back after Flick had said the time for experiments is over, Kimmich hesitated before showing some confusion.
“So-so. Hansi had previously settled on playing me as a number six. I played one game there at the World Cup so you can expect the coach might do it again.”
In typically frank manner, Thomas Müller joined him as the only two players to address the assembled media after the match. His analysis was bleak.
“We keep seeing the same story. You see we’re engaged, that we want it, but at the same time we keep giving our opponents gifts. The first moments of the match often see us conceding goals,” he said.
“We concede very easily and don’t score easily ourselves. Our opponents often play more straightforward football than us. They are more disciplined than us as a team, in terms of working as a unit.”
‘Us players have to look at ourselves’
Flick was tasked with taking Germany back to the top when he took over from his old friend Jogi Löw after a disappointing last 16 finish at the Euros in 2021. Since then Germany have slid further away from the world’s elite, as Müller recognises.
“For the demands we set ourselves currently it’s not good enough. Japan are top ten, top fifteen in the world and we don’t belong in that group right now.”
Interestingly, Thomas Müller couldn’t recall Japan’s recent results, which gives a clue to some lack of preparation. The squad’s togetherness would however not be called into question by the Bayern Munich forward.
“We get on well together, we have a great team spirit. It’s not that we don’t want it, it’s that overall the German national team performance doesn’t currently show the quality we expect.”
When asked whether Flick was making the right calls, Kimmich gave a diplomatic response.
“At the end of the day, we have to trust that the coach is making the right decisions, that he knows what’s best for the team. We try to implement what the coach wants with the formation he selects.”
Kimmich added: “Us players have to look at ourselves, we can’t be pointing the finger at our coach.”
Müller lauds crowd as supporters step up
The only other positive were the fans. , also owing to a complicated relationship to patriotism which sees some supporters reluctant to embrace a more raucous approach.
Not so at the Volkswagen Arena, as Wolfsburg greeted the team loudly and fired them on throughout the match until the inevitable boos rang out at full-time.
“I have to compliment the fans, the support was really there,” Müller admitted. “You felt in the whole stadium that the fans wanted us to win, we wanted to win. They fired us on after we conceded.”
Kimmich agreed, saying “I’ve had more successful periods playing for Germany where the fans gave us less support from the stands. But in the recent games you notice they are hungry and want to create some euphoria. We need to do that ourselves though.”
It was not enough to inspire an altogether uninspiring bunch of players, who face an uphill task when Euro 2024 kicks off in June.
Edited by Michael Da Silva